WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett will go “quickly” but his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, implored the Republican-led Senate to hold off on voting on her nomination until after the Nov. 3 election to “let the people decide.”
Speaking at a press conference at the White House, the president spotlighted Barrett’s Roman Catholic religion, portraying her as a victim of attacks on her faith. But it’s her conservative approach to the law, particularly health care access that is drawing opposition from Democrats, not her private beliefs.
“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said. He vowed she will be confirmed “very quickly.”
Trump’s announcement of Barrett for the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is launching a high-stakes, fast-track election season fight over confirmation of a conservative judge who is expected to shift the court rightward as it reviews health care, abortion access and other hot-button issues.
Biden on Sunday appealed directly to his former colleagues in the Senate to “take a step back from the brink.”
Biden urged Senate Republicans not to fan a controversy during an already tumultuous election year for a country reeling from the coronavirus crisis, a struggling economy and protests over racial injustice. If Trump wins the election, Biden said the president’s nominee should have a vote. But Biden said he should choose the next justice if he prevails on Nov. 3.
“This is time to de-escalate,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
No justice has ever been confirmed to the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election with early voting already underway in some states. Republicans believe the fight ahead will boost voter enthusiasm for Trump and Senate Republicans at serious risk of losing their majority. Democrats warn Barrett’s confirmation would almost certainly undo Americans’ health care protections as the high court takes up a case against the Affordable Care Act in the fall.
According to a national poll by The New York Times and Siena College that was released Sunday, a clear majority — 56% — of voters believes the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election should fill Ginsburg’s seat, versus 41% who said Trump should as the current president. Biden has said he would nominate the first Black woman to the court, but he has not released the names of his potential choices.
The poll, which was conducted Sept. 22-24, had a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to say Sunday whether Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is qualified to serve. But she argued that Trump was moving quickly to fill the vacancy before the court hears a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10.
“It’s not about this justice. It’s about any justice he would appoint right now,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Pelosi, a practicing Catholic like Barrett, sidestepped any focus on Barrett’s conservative religious outlook, which California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, brought up in Barrett’s Senate hearings in 2017 when Trump nominated her for the appellate bench.
Pelosi said, “What I am concerned about is anyone that President Trump would have appointed was there to undo the Affordable Care Act.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on Barrett’s nomination in the “weeks ahead.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham said confirmation hearings will begin Oct. 12. A vote is expected Oct. 29.
“The Senate will confirm her next month,” declared Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on CNN.
With only two of the 53 Republican senators voicing opposition to a confirmation vote before the Nov. 3 election, Democrats appeared outnumbered — and without recourse to block the nomination.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant leader, said Democrats can slow down the confirmation by a matter of hours or days, “but we can’t stop the outcome.”
The president said he had considered Barrett for an opening in 2018 before he ultimately settled on Brett Kavanaugh, but he explained that she “seemed like a natural fit” after Ginsburg’s death.
If confirmed, Barrett’s addition would make for the sharpest ideological swing on the Supreme Court since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.
Earlier, Trump acknowledged the confirmation ahead may not “go smoothly.”
Trump said, “Perhaps it will, perhaps it won’t,” in an interview shortly after the announcement with Fox News Channel that aired Sunday.
Other Republican senators say a post-election confirmation vote is also possible, as the GOP will continue to control the Senate in the lame-duck period between the election and inauguration.
In a memo to colleagues, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned of the GOP’s “monomaniacal drive” to confirm the nominee ahead of the election.
Schumer told Senate Democrats, “Our number one job is to communicate exactly what is at stake for the American people if Republicans jam through this nominee. The elimination of the Affordable Care Act is at the top of the list.”
Barrett has been critical of Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 opinion upholding the health care law. Ginsburg was one of five votes that saved the law on two prior court challenges.
Asked about potential House maneuvers to stall the nomination, such as impeaching Attorney General William Barr, Pelosi quipped, “What is the use of talking about that?” She stressed that Americans should “vote, vote, vote” to put Democrats in charge of the White House, House and Senate.
About a quarter of the graduates from the Class of 2020 gathered Saturday to congratulate each other, thank teachers and reminisce about their time at Hastings College.
Named the 134.5 annual commencement ceremony, the in-person event was a followup to the commencement event in May that was moved online due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
“This is a strange time to be graduating and launching out into the world,” said Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and a member of the college Board of Trustees. “The college is a different place than it was six months ago. Even this ceremony is different, four months later than we all expected it to be.”
The casual event featured graduates wearing caps but not gowns. Attending graduates received a special certificate as a memento of the occasion, following up on the official diplomas all graduates received in the mail last spring.
The ceremony was held on the lawn at Taylor Hall with plenty of space for attendees to spread out.
Although the event was different from previous graduation ceremonies, Jessica Trad of Wisconsin said she liked it being outside. It gave people room to spread out, plus the weather was nice.
“I’m just happy we could have it,” she said. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to.”
When the original commencement was changed to an online event, college officials said they wanted to invite graduates back to campus for an in-person ceremony. They surveyed students and found support for a ceremony during homecoming weekend. Around 55 of the 204 graduates returned for Saturday’s ceremony.
Collin Schnase of Hastings has left Nebraska for ongoing education, but wanted to return for the ceremony.
“It felt great to reconnect with a lot of my old friends,” he said.
Hannah Adams, a member of the Class of 2020, was elected to speak during the ceremony. She said Saturday’s event was a long-overdue 2020 graduation and was appreciated by the students.
“Everyone wants their class to be unique,” she said. “We didn’t expect ours to be the one that ends in a pandemic.”
She noted that four years ago, the graduates’ worlds changed when they embarked on the journey to study at Hastings College. Six months ago it changed again, with the pandemic sending students home for the semester.
“For the rest of our lives, we will be encountering change,” she said. “It’s how you react to that change that matters. You have the power to decide what to do when the world changes.”
Rich Lloyd, the college’s new executive president and a 1985 HC graduate, said the liberal arts education provided at Hastings College helped him gain an understanding of and respect for people with other backgrounds. He said that education helped prepare him for the changes he’s met in life.
“I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know I’ll be ready for it,” he said.
Sharon Behl Brooks and Brent Gollner are among six candidates vying for five seats on the Hastings Board of Education during the general election.
Other HPS school board candidates on the ballot are Laura Schneider, Rod Goodin, Jim Boeve and Chris Shade.
The candidates are being featured two at a time in three consecutive issues of the Hastings Tribune. That started with Saturday’s edition and continues today and Tuesday.
Brent Gollner feels fortunate to have served on the Hastings Board of Education with so many other board members who all shared a goal — doing the best for the students of the district.
“Even though we may disagree about certain topics, or certain things, in the end we come together and decide what’s best for kids,” he said. “After everything’s over and done with, there’s no hard feelings.”
Gollner is running for his fourth term, having served on the school board since 2008.
“The last four years have been interesting because we obviously have replaced our superintendent and have hired Jeff Schneider to do that role, which had gone very well in spite of the issues we have obviously going on with COVID this year,” he said. “That has created a whole other level of angst, worry and frustration.”
Gollner, 55, of 1929 Westchester Drive is a pharmacist and owns the two Keith’s Pharmacy locations in Hastings with his wife, Patty.
The district has had a lot of successes in recent years, including the completion of projects to renovate and expand elementary schools.
That and other projects — such as voter support for a levy override and renovating the district’s Morton building to be a preschool and district office — are made possible by the support of patrons.
The board has been fiscally responsible, he said.
“With Morton, it’s another chance to repurpose a school without spending millions of dollars to build something new,” he said. “We can spend a few million dollars for something that is very nice and is going to last a long time.”
Gollner graduated from Hastings High School. His children, now in their 20s, both went through the HPS system.
“I just think it’s important to give back to the community for all that Hastings Public Schools did for me and my children growing up,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to show what our district can do and does do for student. Whether they are kids who need a little extra help or kids who are going to do great all the way through school, we strive to take care of each person individually and just assure the essentials, but expand on the possible.”
Sharon Behl Brooks
Sharon Behl Brooks’ first term on the Hastings Board of Education has been eventful.
“We hired a new superintendent,” she said. “Our new superintendent had a whirlwind of a first year. It’s a good time to know a lot about our community and just how well our community works together to face challenges. That’s been encouraging.”
Brooks, 68, of 1406 N. Cedar Ave. is running for a second term. She is one of six candidates running for five positions on the school board.
The “whirlwind” for new Superintendent Jeff Schneider Brooks referred to was the district’s response to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
“It’s been a good year to see Hastings at its best, I think,” she said.
She has seen firsthand how Hastings supports education.
“We live in a state that generally does think that it’s very, very uplifting for everyone to have access to educational opportunities, from early childhood all the way through adult learning,” Brooks said. “So that’s a good base to have.”
Hastings has a history of supporting its cultural and educational institutions.
“People, when they know the information, can develop a certain level of trust and understanding,” she said. “I think they have done everything they can to help kids learn.”
Brooks, who has two adult sons with her husband, John, initially ran for the school board not long after retiring from her position as a Hastings College professor of journalism. When teaching at Hastings College, she sent students to public meetings such as those of the school board.
“When I was teaching and raising a family it was always good to keep track of what was going on in our community, but serving in a capacity like being a member of a board was not necessarily ideal for that time,” she said. “When I retired and had a little more time for that, it seemed like the time to do that.”
Serving on the school board the last four years has been a good experience, Brooks said.
“It’s a good group of people to work with,” she said. “That is the truth.”
As board members, they have worked to gather information as part of the decision-making process.
“This board has been really good at gathering information from a lot of the corners,” she said. “I think we still need to work to do that, to make sure everyone feels like they can be heard.”
The nearly 1 million people around the world who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have left us a gift: Through desperate efforts to save their lives, scientists now better understand how to treat and prevent the disease — and millions of others may survive.
Ming Wang, 71, and his wife were on a cruise from Australia, taking a break after decades of running the family’s Chinese restaurant in Papillion, Nebraska, when he was infected. In the 74 days he was hospitalized before his death in June, doctors frantically tried various experimental approaches, including enrolling him in a study of an antiviral drug that ultimately showed promise.
“It was just touch and go. Everything they wanted to try we said yes, do it,” said Wang’s daughter, Anne Peterson. “We would give anything to have him back, but if what we and he went through would help future patients, that’s what we want.”
Patients are already benefiting. Though more deaths are expected this fall because of the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the U.S. and elsewhere, there also are signs that death rates are declining and that people who get the virus now are faring better than did those in the early months of the pandemic.
“Some of the reason we’re doing better is because of the advances,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press. Several drugs have proved useful and doctors know more about how to care for the sickest patients in hospitals, he said.
We’re in the “stormy adolescence” phase of learning what treatments work — beyond infancy but not “all grown up either,” Collins said.
The awful toll
The nearly 1 million deaths attributed to the coronavirus in nine months are far more than the 690,000 from AIDS or the 400,000 from malaria in all of 2019. They’re trending just behind the 1.5 million from tuberculosis.
Wealth and power have not shielded rich countries from the awful power of the virus. The United States “has been the worst-hit country in the world” with more than 7 million coronavirus infections and more than 200,000 deaths, reflecting “the lack of success that we have had in containing this outbreak,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, told a Harvard Medical School audience earlier this month.
More than 40% of U.S. adults are at risk for severe disease from the virus because of high blood pressure and other conditions. It’s not just old people in nursing homes who are dying, Fauci stressed.
Dr. Jesse Goodman, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University, agreed.
“Nobody should make a mistake about this” and think they’re not at risk just because they may not personally know someone who has died or haven’t witnessed what the virus can do firsthand, he said.
Although cases are rising, death rates seem to be falling, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist now at the nonprofit group Resolve to Save Lives.
The virus’s true lethality — the infection fatality rate — isn’t yet known, because scientists don’t know how many people have had it without showing symptoms. What’s often reported are case fatality rates — the portion of people who have tested positive and then gone on to die. Comparing these from country to country is problematic because of differences in testing and vulnerable populations. Tracking these within a country over time also carries that risk, but it can suggest some trends.
“The U.S. cumulative case fatality rate in April was around 5%. Now we’re around 3%,” Shahpar said.
In England, researchers reported that case fatality rates have fallen substantially since peaking in April. The rate in August was around 1.5% versus more than 6% six weeks earlier.
One reason is changing demographics: More cases these days are in younger people who are less likely to die from their infection than older people are.
Increased testing also is playing a role: As more people with mild or no symptoms are detected, it expands the number of known infections and shrinks the proportion that prove fatal, Shahpar said.
It’s clear that treatments also are affecting survival, many doctors said. People who have died from COVID-19, especially ones who took part in studies, have helped reveal what drugs do or do not help.
Dexamethasone and similar steroids now are known to improve survival when used in hospitalized patients who need extra oxygen, but might be harmful for less sick patients.
An antiviral drug, remdesivir, can speed recovery for severely ill patients, shaving four days off the average hospital stay. Two anti-inflammatory drugs, one used in combination with remdesivir — the drug Wang helped test — also have been reported to help although results of those studies have not yet been published.
The jury is still out on convalescent plasma, which involves using antibody-rich blood from survivors to treat others. No large, high-quality studies have tested this well enough to know if it works.
The value of rigorous, scientific studies to test treatments has become clear, Goodman said. “We certainly see what happens” when treatments are widely adopted without them as hydroxychloroquine was, he said. “That exposed a lot of people to a potentially toxic drug” and delayed the hunt for effective ones.
Aside from drugs, “the case fatality rate is actually improving over time as physicians get more adept at taking care of these very sick patients,” said Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
In hospitals, doctors know more now about ways to avoid using breathing machines, such as keeping patients on their bellies.
“We’ve learned about how to position patients, how to use oxygen, how to manage fluids,” and hospitals have increased their surge capacity and supplies, Dr. Judith Currier, a University of California, Los Angeles physician said at a recent webinar organized by the American Public Health Association and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.
The best way to avoid dying from the coronavirus remains to avoid getting it, and experience has shown that the simple measures advocated by public health officials work.
“Prevention is the most important step right now as we’re waiting for a vaccine and we’re improving treatment,” Goodman said.
Wearing a face mask, washing hands, keeping at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting surfaces “clearly are having a positive effect” on curbing spread, Fauci said.
If more people stick with common-sense measures like closing bars, “we should improve our ability to manage this” and prevent more deaths, Shahpar said. “It should take longer to get to the next million if it ever happens.”